How to Better Support Transfer Students

By Emily Rogan

National Student Clearinghouse data highlights the value of counting completions when students transfer. But how can colleges best support these students?

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center recently released compelling new data on student completion rates, showing that 13 percent of students who attended four-year institutions across the nation finished at different schools than where they began. In terms of community colleges, one in three students who enrolled at a two-year public institution finished at a different institution. In seven states, 40 percent of all two-year completions happened at schools other than the starter institutions.

“There are two big things I like about this work,” says Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation, a private group committed to increasing student success. “At a macro level, the Clearinghouse has been able to provide better data and information about students in college; traditional methods of collecting data haven’t been able to track what happens to students when they leave one institution for another.

“And it’s important because we found out that students actually do find paths for themselves at a second or third institution and are able to complete their educations.”

State by state

The report also showed that completion patterns vary state by state, particularly for community college students.

“These are important implications for community college students, because a substantial number of them have goals to transfer to another institution,” Merisotis says.

To understand what is being done in legislative policy as well as with institutional practices to support students, it’s valuable to study states where there are high transfer and completion rates.

Factors such as credit-transfer policies, financial aid and counseling services come into play when examining success rates state by state.

“We have to look at the state policy patterns where students do well transferring,” says Merisotis. “What are the practices that might impact those patterns of completion?”

How to better support transfer students

Merisotis points out that there are several potential roadblocks that can affect a student’s ability to successfully transition from one institution to another:

  • Credits don’t transfer at all or don’t transfer well. Students feel as though they’ve taken a step back, because credits don’t transfer and they have to repeat a course.
  • Financing doesn’t go particularly well. For those transferring from two- to four-year institutions, students may not be prepared for cost differences or may have used up a significant amount of aid.
  • There’s an information gap. Students don’t have someone guiding them through the process.

“The key is [finding] the right kind of support to facilitate the process through all those hurdles that slow down and impede students from successfully making the transfer,” Merisotis says.

These issues are especially important for students who have traditionally been underserved: first-generation, minority, low-income and adult.

“Those whose parents have never been to college are navigating on their own and literally don’t know where to turn,” Merisotis says, also pointing out that better diagnostic tools, such as the Research Center’s report, are important to help administrators and policymakers move forward to better serve students.

“We need them to succeed for their own individual well-being and our collective well-being as a society,” Merisotis says.

How is your college helping transfer students? Tell us in the Comments.

Emily Rogan

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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